October 8, 2015

On the Subject of Love and Rutabagas: A Review of Cool as Ice

Imagine for a moment that an alien species, armed with only the most basic ideas about humans — that they have four limbs jutting out of their torso and a hole in their face that they use to emit speech — had decided to try and replicate early 1990s hiphop culture in a 90 minute film.  This would explain much about Cool as Ice.

At the very least it might explain a lot about the film’s protagonist, “Johnny”, played by the character of Vanilla Ice, played by the character of Robert Van Winkle, played by a person who may once have had hopes and dreams.  It might explain why he doesn’t seem to understand how clothing works, and why his attempts at dialogue wouldn’t pass a simple Turing Test.  It might even explain why his attempts at romance seems more like the behaviour of a murderous psychotic.  But can you really blame them?  I mean, those aliens got those face-holes just right!  That’s not bad for a race of hideous slime beings who communicate their abominable thoughts telepathically.

Assuming the makers of this film were human, I’m not sure what their excuse is.  Thankfully, this movie is so unspeakably over-the-top bizarre that you can’t help but watch it in thrilled amazement.

The movie opens by establishing a few key facts about Our Hero.  We see his awesome dance moves, and then watch as he gets the number of a hot chick... much to his friends’ chagrin!  Oh, Johnny! You’re incorrigible!  Then they all hop on their totally rad motorbikes and ride away into the night with no clear purpose, destination or luggage, and for no obvious reason beyond the fact that the film’s screenwriter must have seen The Wild One once as a teenager.  But this little bit of exposition has at least informed us that Our Hero, though himself Safely White, is cool enough to have Black Friends.  Duly noted!

Our Vanilla Hero and his Black Friends eventually arrive at a sleepy vanilla town where one of the bikes breaks down just long enough for the plot to play out, and they take up residence in the home of two elderly eccentrics who promise to fix it for them.  This is also the town where we are introduced to Our Hero’s love interest.  But I’ll get to her.

Judging by the reactions of these small town folk, they have never seen such dangerous and exciting people as Our Vanilla Hero and his Black Friends.  Their reaction falls just short of frothing at the mouth and convulsing, so taken aback are they.  In fact, half the fun of this film is how so very, very hard it tries to convince us of the greatness of “Johnny”.  Love Interest’s annoying little brother virtually wets himself in excitement every time “Johnny” enters the room, and we can practically feel the film-makers nudging us and gesturing at the screen: “Wow! That guy must be great!”  But, because we don’t exactly share the feeling, we find everyone’s instant loss of control over their bodily functions in his presence jarring and strange.  As if the film can somehow sense our skepticism, it seems to try all the harder.

And so we see him impressing all with his rap skills, mad dance moves, fighting ability, and the calm badassery indicated by the cryptic non-sequiturs that make up 98% of his dialogue.  The committee that originally constructed Vanilla Ice in 1990 is pulling out all the stops.  Did I mention he has Black Friends?  If I may be allowed to quote our protagonist: Awwwwwwww yeah!

Of course the real plot centres on his gentle wooing of Love Interest, an uptight good girl who has just been waiting for a bad boy with a heart of gold to come along and melt her frigid ways.  Instead, she encounters Johnny, a menacing lunatic who dresses like a birthday party clown and has no perceivable grip on reality.  Perhaps the most awkward thing about this movie is how every time they try to make “Johnny” seem like a dangerous bad boy, he comes across about as dangerous as a caged gerbil, and it’s only when they try to show his romantic side that he manages to exude a spine-chilling psychosis.

Allow me to describe their first meeting.  Our Hero comes upon Miss Goody Two-Shoes out horse-riding in a field near the road.  Taking advantage of a conveniently located motorcycle ramp (a prevalent feature in our Johnny’s world), he immediately leaps into the field and terrifies the horse, causing Love Interest to be thrown off.  She is plunged to the ground, where her neck is instantly snapped.  The rest of the film revolves around Johnny and his friends burying her body in a nearby field and then living out their days haunted by the guilt of what they have done.

Ha ha ha just kidding!  Her neck unsnapped, Little Miss Uptight tells our Johnny a thing or two before storming off in a sexy huff.  Never before has one of Johnny’s attempted manslaughters resulted in anything other than a lady’s undergarments firing off into the stratosphere, and this new challenge is too much of an allure to deny.  And so it begins.  Or to quote our eloquent Lothario: “Yep yep, she likes me.”

Though myself no expert in romance, this I do know: if your love interest manages to just barely survive your first encounter with her spine intact, then you’re off to a good start.  But Our Hero is no first-timer in the ancient dance of seduction.  To seal the deal, he also seizes the first opportunity to steal her organizer.  You can’t properly stalk win a lady if you don’t know where she’s going to be 24 hours a day, you dumb n00bs!

Naturally, Love Interest has a douchey boyfriend.  As all terrifying stalkers true romantics know, a hot girl’s boyfriend is always a douchey prick, from whom it is your task to save her.  She needs to drop that zero, and get with the hero!  And so she is slowly, but surely, romanced by Our Hero as he nearly kills her, steals her personal information, and then breaks into her bedroom to watch her sleep.  What’s hotter than a guy who literally will not take no for an answer?  Well.. other than a sparkling, Mormon Vampire who literally won't take no for an answer?  When she wakes up to find him in her bedroom, he slips an ice cube into her waiting mouth and watches the water trickle down from her lips.  I’m not sure the scene quite works, but to be fair to the film-makers it’s always a tricky balance trying to fit your graphic underaged girl rape fantasies into a PG pop music star vehicle targeted at 12 year olds.  It’s just hard getting the tone right, you know?

Meanwhile, a subplot is awkwardly inserted into the story in order to add tension, and (spoilers ahead!) to give Our Hero a chance to save the day.  Michael Grossman (AKA the dad from Family Ties) is given a series of increasingly dark scenes to reveal a secret that he had been keeping from his family: he is a former cop, now in witness protection.  A foolish decision, played out in a moment of loving pride for his daughter, puts him on the local news.  This single act of carelessness places his entirely family in danger as his identity is made known to two ruthless criminals.  Family Ties Dad watches helplessly as his carefully constructed life crumbles all around him.

If that last paragraph seems oddly out of place in tone and content, then, yes, you have been paying attention.  Especially since it’s clear that Family Ties Dad was not informed that this movie was supposed to be cartoonishly surreal.  He plays these scenes straight, leaving us thinking “Oh yeah, acting exists!” but also making everyone feel slightly uncomfortable.  It’s worth keeping in mind that our introduction to this same, dark, brooding father character is a sped-up hallucinogenic fever-dream that shows him gleefully reading the newspaper in fast-forward.  Instead of a DVD commentary, this film needs a chart on the side of the screen displaying exactly how much coke the film-makers had snorted into their faces before shooting each scene.

Up until now, Family Ties Dad was Johnny’s foil, the strict dad who’s too square to let his hot daughter date a dangerous bad boy.  I guess we’re supposed to root for Johnny, but as this dark subplot plays out we’re left thinking that he’s probably right to be protective of his family when a 20-something stranger comes out of nowhere and starts stalking courting his teenaged daughter.  When Johnny sees the same TV interview that captured the criminals’ interest, he glares menacingly at the screen as his Love Interest appears on the screen.  As a viewer, I sure know which threat I’m more concerned about.

If you’re as tired of the film’s “plot” as I am, allow me to jump to the end: the plot concludes when Johnny saves the day by making use of yet another conveniently located motorcycle ramp to crash into the abandoned construction site where Love Interest’s kidnapped brother (oh yeah, that happened) is being held.  This is the same sexy construction site (aww yeah!) where Johnny and Love Interest once spent a romantic montage.  Yes, that happened too.  You assume correctly that annoying little brother immediately loses control of his bladder when he sees his hero Johnny, and the film concludes with a tiresome rap/dance sequence.  You may not have noticed, but this movie stars Vanilla Ice — the rap star!

But the plot really doesn’t matter.  The real mystery at the heart of this film is why it’s so goddamn fun to watch.  Part of it is, of course, the macabre pleasure of watching the career death of a carefully constructed human consumer product with literally no charisma.  But I swear that most of the fun comes from that alien quality of the whole production.  The fun doesn't come only from the fact that the film has a star who seems convinced the entire spectrum of human emotions can be expressed by raising his right eyebrow and holding it there as long as he can endure.  It also comes from how the characters who do seem to be reasonably sane seem totally unfazed whenever they're suddenly plunged into scenes of disconcerting madness, like the acid trip moments with their eccentric elderly bike repairmen.  Strangest of all is the dystopian Sugar Shack, where all of the teenagers dress like stereotypes from a 1950s nerd convention and stare off sadly into the distance.  Marty McFly ACTUALLY going back to 1955 seemed less out of place than Our Hero appears in this weirdly unexplained club.

The strangest moments come from the few actors who accidentally give convincing portrayals of human behaviour.  This makes the vertigo-inducing weirdness of the rest of the movie seem even stranger in contrast.  Kristin Minter, playing Love Interest, actually gives a half-decent performance as a girl experiencing her first real love/lust, and comes across as both likeable and attractive.  But whenever the gibbering loon that is “Johnny” appears in the scene as the object of that affection, the effect is about as strange as if his role had been played by a sentient rutabaga.

So why is this movie so fun?  Well, just think... a movie about a rapping rutabaga winning the love of an ordinary teenaged girl?  Who wouldn’t want to watch that?


  1. Very well-written, Curtis. It almost makes me want to watch this ludicrous movie. Oh, wait. I changed my mind. Hope you will write more.

  2. You had me mildly interested until you tell me he is a rutabaga. Show me something in a nice butternut squash and you may get me to watch it. ; P